When it comes to Best Performance by a Dead Man in a Stage Musical, Ralph Johnson’s “Lucky Stiff” at the Scripps Ranch Theater wins big. The veteran San Diego actor spent the entire show playing a dead body, mostly in a wheelchair, wearing a hat, sunglasses and a stone face.
Johnson’s feat is all the more impressive considering everything going on around him. The entertaining musical slapstick that opened Saturday featured 11 actors, at times at Keystone Cops pace — except for Johnson, of course. However, with Kathy Brombacher’s direction and Valerie Clark’s choreography, the antics on stage at the Legler-Benbough Theater go far beyond controlled chaos.
Lucky Stiff is based on Michael Butterworth’s 1983 novel The Monte Carlo Bankruptcy. Five years later, frequent collaborators Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (“Ragtime,” “Anastasia”) adapted the book into a musical.
Scripps Ranch Theater’s “Lucky Stiff,” a co-production with Oceanside Theater Company, will move to OTC’s Brooks Theater next month (March 3-19) following the end of its current engagement. It’s a show with a gamer cast, likable tunes, and wide-ranging comedy that relies on physicality and smart characterization rather than double takes.
It helps to buy the wild premise: Unhappy British shoe salesman Harry Witherspoon (Cody Ingram) receives a telegram from a lawyer who later tells him about an Anthony he’s never heard of Uncle has died and left him $6 million. Naturally there is a catch, and a big lie at that: the terms of the will stipulate that Harry escort the embalmed remains of his American uncle to Monte Carlo for a week of luxury and self-indulgence, from casino gambling to scuba diving.
That’s not all. If Harry doesn’t follow the tee’s specifications, the six million dollars will go to charity — the Universal Dog Home in Brooklyn. Deciding that anything is better than a life selling shoes, Harry heads to Monte Carlo, pushing his late uncle in a wheelchair along the way.
Complications ensue, as if pushing a dead body around Monte Carlo wasn’t complicated enough. Uncle Anthony’s ex-lover Rita (Erica Marie Weisz) and her neurotic younger brother Pooh (Kenny Bordieri) think Harry has $6 million with him. Meanwhile, Annabel Glick (Kelly Druin) is determined to find Harry to sneak out for the Brooklyn dogs to collect.
All of these outcomes were predictable, albeit with some surprises.
Along the way, some “Lucky Stiff” musical tracks shine with piano accompaniment.
The funniest is Weisz (“Rita’s Confession,” “Fancy Meeting You Here”) and Bortieri’s “call” to his irritated wife in America. As the crooning emcee of a casino cabaret troupe, Bob Himlin could be the French-speaking cousin to Bill Murray’s casual lizard character (“Monte Carlo!”). bro. Olivia Pence goes all out as seducer Dominique du Monaco (“Speaks French”).
Ingram and the silky-voiced Druin are a love-hate pairing. The big ballad they sing together is aptly titled “Nice.”
Everyone wore colorful outfits by Marcene Drysdale, designer of “Dido and Aeneas” at last fall’s Bodhi Tree Concerts.
With all its touching parts, over 15 musical numbers and zany plot, “Lucky Stiff” is no easy show. Fortunately for partner theaters, their teams are up to the task.
when: Friday and Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 2pm.until February 19
Where: Scripps Ranch Theater at Alliant International University Legler-Benbough Theater, 9783 Avenue of Nations, San Diego
Where: Oceanside Theater Company at The Brooks, 271 N. Coast Highway, Oceanside
when: Every Friday, March 3-19 at 8pm. Saturday 2pm and 8pm.Sunday at 2pm